A Lesson in Health Promotion

When the SCOPE team visited from Seattle, they had an idea.

“Why don’t we create a poster to put up in the health centers SCOPE works with, to show people what we do?”

So in our office in Gondar, Sheldon and I played around with images and layouts, trying to express the “essence” of SCOPE. But it wasn’t until Rotary Fellow Simegnew (pronounced Sim-en-ya) got wind of what we were planning that things really got interesting.

Simegnew
Simegnew- SCOPE Rotary Fellow and Health Promotion expert

Simegnew has two degrees in health promotion, and is one of the newest faces around the SCOPE office in Gondar. He explained that there is a science behind posters and displays; that everything from the intended audience to the desired message can be planned so that the impact is precise and culturally effective.

“Let me make a creative brief,” he said.

The creative brief transformed what we had in our heads into specific directions. We wanted the staff and women at the health centers to see the poster and know that SCOPE pairs community health workers with Priests, and trains them to encourage women to have safer pregnancies. We wanted it to be in English and Amharic, with easy to understand pictures, so that people of any literacy level could understand it. Simegnew mapped this out perfectly.

Adino called our friend Gebeyanesh, along with a Priest based near the clinic in Ayemba, to ask if they would be willing to be our models in photos for the poster.

So this morning, camera in tow, we boarded an overcrowded minibus to Ayemba, returning to the clinic where SCOPE’s interventions have been so effective.

On the way, Sheldon and I peppered Simegnew with questions. He explained that ‘health promotion’ is a specialty within public health, and focuses on making sure effective, accurate health messages get to people when and where they need them. It involves everything from basic posters to high-end television and radio media. Simegnew literally teaches the class on health promotion at the University of Gondar, and perfecting the art of health promotion is his life’s work.

But like so many of our colleagues, Simegnew is also deeply religious. He explained that when he was in high school he decided to spend his weekends taking classes and studying texts at his local Orthodox Christian church. After years of work and study, he became a deacon. Today, while working at the University, he is still very involved with the Orthodox Church. He listed off the recent Saints’ days, and told us of his plans to spend a whole night praying at church this week.

While we were still deep in conversation, with the morning sun blazing, the minibus pulled into Ayemba.

The weather has been growing hotter here, and the absence of rain means the dust kicks up with the slightest breeze. Walking the short distance to the health center, we crossed a river. It was nearly dry, in contrast to the rollicking flow we saw a few months ago.

The health center was busy with the day’s patients, and Simegnew greeted the Head and explained our business. Soon, a Priest, easily recognizable with his white wrap and headdress, was visible walking up the dusty road leading to the clinic. As with many other Priests I have encountered here, he had a peaceful, lit-from-within smile. Soon Gebeyanesh, and a new mother, Abebach, followed.

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Priest Tegegn and Health Development Army member Gebeyanesh 
As we moved throughout the clinic, the Priest was the center of attention. Men stopped him every few meters, asking him to hold up his wooden cross as a blessing. The Priest was patient and quiet, stopping for everyone who asked. Attention from a Priest was clearly a big deal.

We snapped a picture of Abebach and her baby getting advice from the midwife. Gebayenesh told us that Abebach had had pregnancy complications, but that the prenatal checkups had caught the problem, allowing her plenty of time to arrange to deliver at a larger facility in Gondar. The baby boy, Bantegize, was healthy and growing.

Ayemba Visit 018
Mom Abebach and baby Bantegize with the one of the midwives at Ayemba

As we continued taking pictures somewhere else, it was clear that the baby was Gebeyanesh’s center of attention. She doted on the mother and infant- making sure they were always in the shade, and that the mother’s shawl was ‘just right’. She seemed to echo the patient care of the Priest.

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We thanked our photo subjects profusely, paid for their transportation to the clinic, and headed back to Gondar to work on the pictures. Simegnew will help us to select images which are easily understood here, and which convey the work that SCOPE does. After that, Simegnew explained, we will show our draft to people at a health center and ask them questions to make sure the images and text convey exactly what we intend.

I love how Simengew effortlessly blends his scientific training with his religious devotion, just as the Priest and Gebayenesh’s work easily bridges the care of a neighbor and Spiritual leader with the practical provision of health care services. It seems like such a natural combination. We hope that the final version of our poster conveys the beauty of this message so that all who see it will be inspired.

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